I have played with Yupo and watercolors before, with checkered success. More than once I have happily marched a failed painting to the sink and washed my efforts down the drain. I have been known to call Yupo the Etch-a-Sketch of watercolor painting. But for the past month I have been doing miniatures in acrylic, so I thought that working larger in watercolor might be good. So I signed up for a two day workshop at L'Atelier, a local art studio. The presenter was a fine local painter and teacher named Barbara Mathews. I've admired her work for several years, and despite the fact she offers ongoing classes had never worked with her before.
The workshop had everything I like: a knowledgeable and personable instructor, well-written handouts, many examples, a combination of demonstration and personal working time, and constructive feedback. Mathews spent the first day discussing the qualities of Yupo synthetic paper, how to prepare it for painting, and how she likes to apply pigment. She squeezes paint directly onto the Yupo, then moves it around with a damp brush. This was painful for me, since tend be miserly with my watercolor paint. I know in my heart this leads to all sorts of problems, so I took a deep breath and did as she demonstrated.
This first day was devoted to abstract designs. She talked a little about some simple compositional formats, then launched into examples of how to remove paint to create white spaces. The straight edges here were done by laying down masking tape, then using damp paper towels to lift the watercolor back to the white surface. She used a variety of stencils, some purchased, some made from everyday objects like cut mats, or jar lids. She created texture with a combination of found objects like plastic mesh, sequin tape, or plastic wrap, and purchased stamps. Basically she lifted away about half the paint, then added back whatever made a pleasing design. One hint she gave us was to limit the colors we used in these abstracts to two, that way the colors won't get muddy.
After the abstracts are dry, she likes to use a gloss spray fixative to ensure the watercolor doesn't lift. She warned us not to store Yupo paintings in plastic bags, because the paint adheres to the plastic and lifts away from the surface.
The second day was devoted to more realistic imagery. She began these paintings much the same way as the abstracts, by covering the surface of the Yupo with an intense layer of watercolor pigment, then allowing it to air dry well before proceeding (a hair dryer will push the paint around too much). When the background was dry she used graphite paper to transfer a simple drawing. Then she carefully removed all the paint around the shapes in the painting. Here she is working on a painting of horsemen and a tree.
This was my effort - not so bad in design, though the color choices were unfortunate. I wish I had chosen mostly dark pigments, with a small warm area to suggest the sunlight coming through the doorway. As it is, there isn't enough contrast, and the colors look like an ode to the Green Bay Packers or maybe John Deere. Still, I understood the idea. Next time I'll do better.
This is an example that Barb painted. While it looks complicated, the process is fairly simple. I like the way the green and gold works here much better than in mine.
Her final demonstration was of a Costa Rican tree frog. This time she drew the frog on the Yupo, then painted directly. The frog isn't done yet in this photo. She cleaned up edges, added light glazes, and added details that made him look alive. One great thing about working on this surface is the brilliantly intense colors that can be achieved.
I did a very small version in colors closer to the source photo, but then added black acrylic ink in the background when I got home. Mine never achieved the loose and glossy look that hers had, so I'll need to work on a series to develop my skills.
I had fun in this workshop, loosened up some, was more generous than usual with pigment, and generally felt my weekend was well spent.
About buying Yupo. I have never found the material at local arts and crafts stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels, but you can order sheets or pads of the synthetic paper through Jerry's Artarama, Cheap Joes, or Dick Blick.